Last night, a well-to-do crowd of generous New Yorkers enjoyed a rare opportunity to hang out with two presidents of the United States: Bill Clinton and Josiah Bartlet. The occasion was a charity screening of 'The Way,' starring Martin Sheen -- who played Bartlet on 'The West Wing' from 1999 to 2006 -- and directed by Sheen's son Emilio Estevez. Clinton, who was there to support the evening's beneficiary, The Walkabout Foundation, went out of his way to thank "my friend Martin Sheen, who when I left the White House became my president." (That's a George Bush joke, for those playing at home.) "I try to show the appropriate deference."
'The Way' follows the journey of a bereaved father (Sheen) along the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route from France to Spain that every year attracts tens of thousands of motivated pedestrians. It's not the kind of movie you'd make if box-office success were anywhere on your list of priorities, but those who do sign up will enjoy watching Sheen, who so famously trekked into the heart of darkness in 'Apocalypse Now,' pursue the path of something like salvation, and the Super 16 footage of the Camino is something humanity can be glad to possess. As Estevez put it, after lamenting our age of cynicism, "This is a movie that invites you to climb higher on the tree. The view is better, the fruit is sweeter."
Still, just as the movie persistently questions its characters' reasons for taking their journey, an audience member has to ask: Why make this movie? The answer came during the post-screening Q&A, when Estevez shared a family anecdote. A few years back, Martin Sheen and his grandson Taylor Levi Estevez (Emilio's son) walked the Camino, and along the way Taylor fell in love with an inn-keeper's daughter, whom he went on to marry. Upon his return, Martin told Estevez, "You've lost a son on the Camino, and if you want to see him you should consider making a film there. And while you're considering that, why don't you write that film for me to star in." Now it all made sense!
But there were other mysteries to ponder, too. Why Bill Clinton? Why the Walkabout Foundation, a very young organization whose very, very ambitious long-term goal is to supply wheelchairs to every one of the 100 million people around the world who need them? These answers eventually emerged as well. Walkabout was founded by siblings Luis and Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster, whose father, Rolando, roomed with Clinton during their freshman year at Georgetown. Rolando is also the one who forged a connection with Estevez, after introducing himself on an airplane to ask what Estevez and his father had been doing making a movie on the Camino. Once it emerged that Luis had been the first person ever to make the pilgrimage in a wheelchair, the magic started to happen.
"We would not be here tonight if Rolando had not taken that opportunity," Estevez observed. "Tonight is one of the miracles."
Click here to donate to the Walkabout Foundation.
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